Learn Your Fretboard In 3 Easy Steps

At some point, we all have to take that, seemingly overwhelming, step of learning the names of the notes on the guitar neck; whether it be the roots on the E and A strings, to help find our chords, or a full exploration of every note on the neck. But why do this? And, how long will it take?


Why learn the names of the notes?

Chords, scales and (for the more adventurous) intervals are all communicated using note names - fret numbers only take you so far. If you know the ‘shapes’ but not the names of the chord or scale you’re playing, if you only feel comfortable with chords and scales in one or two places, then this is a good indication that you will have a much easier time once you get to grips with naming the notes on your guitar!

Building a better understanding of the fretboard also gives you musical options and opens a whole new perception of how to rework the things you already know. Want to play a chord in a different position or reorder the notes to make it easier to play? Learnt that lick but want to play it in a different key or in another part of the neck? You guessed it, note names are the key (no pun)!

This sounds painful, is there a quick way to do this?

The good news is - yes, there are some tried and tested ways to visualise and memorise the notes names using a few crafty shortcuts. Here are 3 steps to get you started:

1. Root Notes

If you learn nothing else, getting the names of your basic root notes down and where they are played on your low E and A strings will make the dizzying landscape of your fretboard instantly feel smaller and less confusing!

Firstly - lets use those handy dots on your frets (after all this is what they are there for!). You have a dot in frets 3,5 & 7, so let’s start with these.

Below are the root notes, by name, on the E and A strings - only on the frets with dots in - we will be using these as starting points to learn the rest! If you are using the Guitar Pro files - loop these round and play (or sing) the names of the notes as you play them!

Root notes on the E and A strings

Ex.1 - Gives you the chance to play along - Let the first two notes of each bar play, then copy them during the written rests - calling the names of the notes as you play. Again, if you are using the Guitar Pro files for this you have the benefit of doing this in time and responding quickly. Put this exercise on loop until you feel really confident with where these basic notes are.

Ex.1

Got them? Great, we are ready to step things up!

Using the notes found on our fret marker dots is a good starting point to add the remaining notes. Below we have added E, F, C, D and the high E on the E string. On the A string, you’ll find the addition of A, B, F, G and another A. To replicate the feeling of starting scales and chords on these notes - use your first finger only.

E & A String Roots Pt.2

Once you think you have a good grasp of where these extra notes are, try Ex.2. Jumping over the notes or playing them ‘out of order’ is the perfect way to test you and commit these notes to memory. Remember to say the notes as you play them. If you are using the GP files - loop each exercise and increase the tempo for kicks!

Ex.2

2. Using Octaves

So the E and A string are looking familiar. If you want to take things a step further, we need to do the same with the remaining 4 strings. However, memorising each string the same way in which we learnt your E and A strings is nobody’s idea of fun! So, let’s employ a cheat using the root notes we already know!

Take our A note - which we have learnt is the 5th fret on the E string - to find this A elsewhere on the guitar there is a simple rule which works for any of the root notes we learnt on our E and A strings, and it goes like this:

2 strings across + 2 frets ups, then 2 strings across + 3 frets up.

This gives us 2 more A notes on the D and B strings.

A in 3 places

So, we are now a master of A notes! The good news is that we can use the same logic with any of our root notes to find 2 more places to play each of them! Ex.3 does just that using the 3 easy roots which we first learnt on our 3rd, 5th and 7th frets.

Ex.3

Ex.4 does the same with our remaining notes on the E string - following our same rule with each: 2 strings across + 2 frets ups, then 2 strings across + 3 frets up.

Playing along with the GP exercise will add an element of real-time response and help you memorise these whilst finding them under pressure!

Ex.4

3. Sharps and Flats

Just like the black notes on a piano keyboard, much of our guitar neck is made up of troublesome sharp (#) and flat (b) notes; adding another level to our quest for fretboard mastery. This doesn’t have to be a tough undertaking however; if you have a good grasp of the basic notes then moving up a single fret will give you a sharp, whilst moving down will give you a flat (with two exceptions which we will look at in a moment).

Here is an example showing a quick way to find G and A sharps/flats using the roots you already know. Of course you can do the same with any other G or A notes. Notice how A# and Gb are essentially the same note.

Finding Sharps & Flats

This is true for all the notes we have learnt so far - 1 fret up gives us the note as a sharp and 1 fret down gives us the one as a flat. There are two exceptions though - there is no sharp or flat between B&C notes and E&F notes - these simply exist one fret apart.

Take a look:

Notes without a sharp or flat between them

Admittedly, developing a full and instant recognition of every note by name is something we can’t master in the time it takes to read this blog, but this represents the perfect starting point. Take these exercises in bite sized chunks and use the Guitar Pro files to play along in real time. It will all be worth the effort in the long run!

If you don't have Guitar Pro, click on the link below and experience these exercises in a more interactive way!